THE ROAD TO KNOWLEDGE: Europeans, pt 2

Here are more of Stapleton’s views on his fellow Europeans:

Excerpted from THE ROAD TO KNOWLEDGE: Or, Young Man & Woman’s Best Friend, by George Stapleton, published in London in 1797.


As to the PEOPLE, though they are characterized by those of other countries for generosity, they do not display any great share of it among each other; the higher classes seem not to care much for the lower, and the lower care as little for the higher. With respect to the military part, the English soldiers are as good as any in Europe; and as to the sailors, they are the best in the world.


As to the Dutch, as a people, their character is pretty well known throughout Europe. How far their extreme love of money is reconciled to requisitions and contributions in support of their allies, I know not. It seems to be, however, the general opinion, that, with respect to a change in government, they have been rather mistaken in their politics.


The inhabitants are stout, robust, laborious people.


The natives of Spain are represented as proud, haughty, and indolent: even the peasants, like the Welch, keep geneologies of their families. The Spanish ladies are fond of paint, and are kept much at home, through the jealousy of their husbands. The men, at least such as are liberally educated, discover a great genius for learning, as appears from the number of learned men and works which this kingdom has produced, though greatly limited in their researches into some subjects by their excessive bigotry to their religion. As for wit and genius, either in dramatic or romantic performances, they are allowed to be excellent; nor would they be defective in point of politics, were their sentiments not fettered by a despotic government.


With respect to the people of Germany, their genius has appeared in the invention and improvement of many mechanical arts, especially clockworkโ€ฆ


The Poles are naturally active, hardy, and robust. The gentry have many virtues; they are open, generous, and hospitable; very civil to strangers; and, for the most part, men of honour: their greatest failing is vanity, and strong inclination to live, after their manner, in a wild kind of magnificence. The Polish ladies are generally fair and comely, and abhor painting and washes; they are said to be women of exemplary piety and virtue, both in their public behaviour, and in their domestic economy. But as to the meaner sort of people, they are, to a fault, ignorant and slothful; which, however, is rather to be charged to the constitution of their Government, than any natural disposition or temper; for where the law has rendered peasants incapable of possessing property, one cannot suppose they will take pains to acquire it.


The inhabitants are a brave people, but haughty.


The natives are in general robust, well-shaped, and of tolerable good complexionโ€ฆ The Czar, or Emperor, is a despotic Prince, and his subjects are all vassals.


The people are robust, and inured to hard labour.


The natives are of a robust constitution, and well calculated for hard labour. There is not country in the world where the women work so hard; for they till the ground, thresh the corn, and even row boats on the sea.

So…. Which of the above stereotypes surprises you the most? Do you think most of his stereotypes here reflect the standard stereotypes of his day, or do you suspect was he inventing his own, based on the people he’d met? (And did you notice how often he characterizes a people as “robust”?)

(And don’t forget about our next meeting of the Jane Austen Movie Club, the first Tuesday in August, when we’ll be discussing the Gwyneth Paltrow version of EMMA!)

who is stout, occasionally robust, but definitely not inured to hard labour

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Diane Gaston
15 years ago

I want to livein a wild kind of magnificence like the Polish gentry!

Cara King
15 years ago

a wild kind of magnificence

Yes — what DOES that mean??? ๐Ÿ™‚

Gold-plated orgies?

Luxurious circuses?

Every kid owns a zebra?


15 years ago

Most of his opinions sound like typical stereotypes of the day. I was a little surprised by what he says about the Prussians, whom I think of as rather fierce and warlike, not particularly “stout, robust, laborious people.”

I was also confused about the English. If they are generous, but not to each other, then who exactly are they generous to? Their pets?

Some of this reminds me of the Flanders and Swann song: “The English, The English, The English are Best! (And couldn’t care tuppence for all of the rest.)”


Keira Soleore
15 years ago

Cara, a wild kind of magnificence would probably resemble the coffee liquor commercial where svelte fashionable people walk exotic pets on a leash.

Mr. Stapleton seems to have been rather fond of the robustness of his theories. And for the record, I’d like to be Russian (robust, well-shaped, and good-complected).

Cara King
15 years ago

Todd, it’s possible he meant the English were generous abroad… But then, what we read about 18th century English tourists in Nice might not support that! ๐Ÿ™‚

And for the record, I’d like to be Russian (robust, well-shaped, and good-complected)

Good choice, Keira! I’m certainly going to avoid being any of the peoples who are “laborious” or “calculated for hard labour.” ๐Ÿ™‚

Being a wealthy Polish woman would be the most interesting, though — as a woman, I’d have extreme piety mixed with wild magnificence…and I wouldn’t have to wear make-up… ๐Ÿ™‚


15 years ago

The haughty and brave Hungarians sound interesting to me.

Today, I’m working toward “robust” but I think a nap might help…

Anybody want to hazard a guess as to how Stapleton would stereotype the early Americans?

Cara King
15 years ago

Anybody want to hazard a guess as to how Stapleton would stereotype the early Americans?

Hmm… Robust? ๐Ÿ™‚ How about:

“As to the Americans, their character is open and simple, yet surprisingly haughty for a people supposedly devoted so to universal equality. In person, they are vigorous and robust, and their women are fair in a country-like way, albeit often ruddy and occasionally coarse. They are better at driving a sharp bargain than any folk but the Dutch, and the wild magnificence in which live the inhabitants of New York is exceeded only by the Polish.” ๐Ÿ™‚


15 years ago

Brava! Laughing definitely moved me a step closer to robust, thanks!

Elena Greene
15 years ago

I wonder what he would say about Lithuanians?

Elena who could certainly be described as robust

15 years ago

Well, my family background is plenty old Polish, but hmm, not sure about the paragraph there. LOL ๐Ÿ™‚

And when you first mentioned that Emma was going to be the next movie, I totally forgot it in my response, so here it is now. . . cool! ๐Ÿ™‚ I should be starting the book by the end of the week, so I’ll watch the movies, including ours for the movie club next week. You know, if all goes well. LOL ๐Ÿ™‚


15 years ago

Oh, PS — as for the whole robust thing. . . hmm, I gotta be someone who doesn’t apply to that category. Pretty sure. ๐Ÿ™‚


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